ASH/WRIMO: Catman: Minor Arcana #4 (of 4) - Swords
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Fri Nov 26 22:02:10 PST 2010
[The cover shows Edouard and Isabel fleeing through ancient ruins as
explosions bracket them. Their attackers are unseen. Cover copy proclaims,
.|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS An ASHistory Series
'|` Catman: Minor Arcana #4 - Swords
copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen
[July 6, 1998 - Tel Megiddo, Israel]
Edouard ducked behind an ancient stone pillar as the bullets pocked the
dirt and stone where he'd been standing an instant before. Tactically, this
really wasn't his kind of fight...all of the godpowered mercs were sticking
with ranged weapons unless forced into melee. Sword of David was bulletproof
enough to bull his way into that kind of fight, but he'd just found out that
his opponent was no slouch at grappling range either.
Isabel seemed to be holding her own, at least, which meant Edouard could
focus on keeping his own pelt intact. But if things didn't turn around soon,
the hodge-podge Israeli superhero team would be defeated in detail. This
wasn't a bunch of random fanatics who'd sold their souls for power and then
decided to team up, like the villain teams Edouard was used to. No, this
bunch had pretty clearly been mercs together before the "Godmarket" hit, and
they bargained as a group with one of the wargods. Their abilities may not
have been ASH-level, but they complemented the squad's existing skill set
very well. Tactically, this was a VERY smart group of foes.
Strategically, not so much. Intel said that the paymaster for this
little venture was trying to cast a spell using sympathetic magic at Tel
Megiddo...also known as Armageddon...to bring about the end of the world.
Sometimes it's not a good idea to have a "no questions asked" work policy.
Then again, maybe these yahoos knew all about the plan, but expected their
patron god to save them from the results. They certainly hadn't shown any
inclination to parley.
The Sword of David's signature weapon flew from his hand and hit the
stony ground, slicing off a few chunks of rock in the process. It wasn't
magical, but its supertech monomolecular edge came in awfully handy against
armored foes, and the merc SoD (he hated that nickname) was facing seemed
Sword of David leapt for his weapon...and vanished.
As did the mercs.
And everyone else on the hill other than Edouard and Isabel.
"Ohhhhh crap," Isabel scanned the skies. "What now?"
* * * *
[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]
Mid-July 1998 had been a chaotic and confused time, Edouard reflected as
he hefted the weapon left behind by the Sword of David. If the world hadn't
been toughened up by a generation's worth of supervillain-orchestrated
disasters and the occasional interdimensional invasion, the two billion
people who survived the crash of the godmarket would probably have been
reduced to a few thousand scattered survivors over the next few years.
Fortunately, though, most of the people who kept things running had been
left behind, and critical services had redundancies built into them to help
weather catastrophes. Most of those who vanished came disproportionately
from the very poor...who were desperate enough to throw their lots in with
any god who promised a better life...and the very rich, who probably thought
they'd managed to broker better deals for themselves. Rich and poor alike
vanished that day, though. And many of those in the middle, of course. Oh,
and everyone with the Magene was gone, which was why Isabel and Edouard had
found themselves very suddenly with a battlefield all to themselves, with the
rest of the combatants on both sides winking out like candles. Only later
did it become clear that those created by gods but who weren't exactly human
were left behind. He never did figure out exactly why that was, though.
News had been slow to get out through the traditional channels, since
most of the faces of news had been among the vanished. Hell, one major
network had put a sportscaster on as their head anchor because he was the
most recognizable person they had left!
But it only took a day or so for people to realize that it had happened
everywhere. Almost all of the supers were gone. Everyone who had worshipped
one of the pagan gods was gone.
And everyone was worried they might go next, once whatever had done this
finished digesting their first meal. It was not a good time to be a visible
reminder of abnormality....
* * * *
[July 14, 1998 - Tel Aviv, Israel]
"Luckily, all the potential witnesses had cleared out of the combat
zone, so no one outside of the Special Division knows you two didn't vanish
with all the rest," Colonel Waldstein's permanently sour expression had only
gotten more unhappy in the past week. "But the minute you step out there,
some hardcore sephardim's gonna whip up a lynch mob. People seem to have
decided that they'll be safe from whatever caused the big vanishing if they
ramp up their religious fervor, and anything that has even a whiff of the
supernatural is going to get torn apart."
"Can we at least let our friends back in America know we're alive?"
Isabel asked. They knew from watching the heavily censored news that all of
the "god squad" incarnation of ASH had vanished as well, and there were some
rumblings that Valkyrie had even helped make it happen, but the two catpeople
did have friends among the normal humans in Chicago as well.
Waldstein shook his head. "Above my pay grade, I'm afraid. Politics,"
he spat. "Long run, you'll probably get used for leverage of some sort, once
things settle down enough that anyone can figure out where to use you. Short
run, if you step outside in the daylight you won't last until sundown, no
matter how good you are in a fight. You're getting served the proverbial
crap sandwich, I'm afraid, your only choice is deciding where to start
Waldstein stepped across the room to where the recovered gear of the
other heroes had been placed. People had vanished along with everything
they'd been carrying, but in the heat of battle some things had been dropped
or knocked away, like the team leader's sword.
"Now, my men are stretched pretty thin, and I'm probably going to have
to send even more of them out after sundown to enforce a curfew. So if you
could somehow get past the lock on that door," he carefully brushed a hand
across the flat of the uncannily sharp blade on the table, "I doubt anyone
could stop you from leaving here. But even if you did get out, Israel's not
going to be a safe place for you to hide. Word is, it might not be a safe
place to exist at all for much longer, what with our neighbors deciding that
crushing us would be a great way to prove their own religious fervor and get
Allah to shield them from the vanishing."
"I...see," Edouard nodded. Old memories of the Underground came
flooding back. He'd practically grown up on the run, he could go back to
that lifestyle for a little while, if he had to. And Isabel was a quick
"If we have any other questions, Colonel, will you be around?" Isabel
asked, also catching on.
"Oh, I expect I'll be on site until sundown, but I'll be in meetings
after dinner. About defense planning. A lot of important people. I might
just tell my adjutant to not bother me with anything short of the base
catching fire," he took his hand from the sword, leaving it on the table.
"We'll keep that in mind," Edouard nodded. "And please, see if you can
at least let our government know we're alive, even if we can't actually talk
The colonel was just as good at catching hints as throwing them, and
nodded. "Well, I have other duties to attend to, so I'll leave you for now.
We have a particularly bad mob starting to coalesce on the east side, and I
need to make sure we have enough people in the area to keep it from boiling
over. With our primary mandate having just gone up in a puff of smoke,
Special Division's expected to pitch in wherever there's a need."
With that he left.
* * * *
As stealthily as possible the couple used the Sword of David's weapon to
cut the hinges off the door and ease it open. True to his implied word,
Colonel Waldstein had left no guards in the immediate area. As long as they
didn't do anything too blatant, no soldiers would come to investigate for a
while after dinner, either. The troops at this base had come to know the
"American" catpeople and had no desire to fight them, but they were also
loyal to their nation and would follow lawful orders. So the key was to make
sure they wouldn't have to directly disobey either their orders or their
Whether or not a riot was erupting to the east, there was a distinct
lack of security coverage to the west, and what few patrols were out were
simple to evade. It was harder to stay out of sight of ordinary citizens,
though, and concealing robes hadn't been among the equipment Waldstein had
"forgotten" in the room with them. Both had practiced moving and fighting in
heavy robes just in case a mission called for stealth, as catpeople tended to
stand out more than people in burqas no matter where you went in Israel.
Perhaps Waldstein figured robes wouldn't have been helpful in current
circumstances, or maybe he'd been specifically told to keep such things from
the couple. He'd bend the spirit of orders too, but not the letter.
Soon, though, the flickering of a building fire drew their attention.
Whoever had lit the fire had moved on, probably more afraid of being caught
than interested in watching things burn. Edouard and Isabel could tell in an
instant that the residents had been killed first, the arson being more of a
contemptuous afterthought. A Palestinian family, killed because they weren't
One Of Us. The mirror image was probably happening in places where Israelies
were the minority. And far worse in parts of the world where the power
structure had been more thoroughly gutted a week ago.
"We have to get out of here," Isabel hissed.
"Grab a robe, but don't put it on yet," Edouard pointed at a trampled
wash line. "We head for Palestinian-controlled territory, where we can blend
in, at least for a little while. I doubt they're any less likely to burn
'demons' than the Israelis are right now, but at least we won't stand out in
robes as much on our way to...somewhere else."
"Where else, though? Israel is surrounded on all sides by enemies, and
if the Colonel's sources are right, there's going to be armies marching this
way from all directions except west! I can't swim to Italy, can you?"
"For now? Egypt. They had a lot of 'investment' in the godmarket,
they're bound to be more disorganized than Syria or Jordan. And if we can
get through them, the interior of Africa strikes me as a pretty good place to
hide until things cool down."
Neither voiced what both thought. "If they ever do."
* * * *
[August 30, 1998 - The Serengeti, Kenya]
They'd made it out of Egypt just in time, as the country recovered from
the chaos much more quickly than Edouard would have expected. The reason had
become clear soon enough, though. Egypt had been on the verge of a civil war
in July, with the more hardcore Islamic elements preparing to overthrow a
government that was increasingly throwing its lot in with the returned gods.
When all the people who followed those gods vanished on the sixth, the
rebellion turned into a nearly bloodless coup d'etat and the "clean up after
things" plans simply got moved forward. Given that many of the factions
involved had been practicing nationbuilding in recent years by supporting
Israel's Palestinians, they'd done a pretty smooth job of it.
On the good side, it meant there were very few cases of total social
breakdown in Egypt, so little risk of being swept up in a random riot. On
the bad side, the cracks Edouard and Isabel had been counting on slipping
through had closed pretty quickly. They avoided starvation only by the
barest of margins a few times, which had become an even bigger worry once
Isabel realized she'd gotten pregnant, probably back in May.
"It's beautiful," Isabel looked out over the plains, which were still
unnaturally green from the influence of one or more gods. Much of Africa had
become verdant and lush in the past year, although with the gods withdrawing
their hands things would likely collapse back to the previous state soon
"And there don't seem to be any people," Edouard added. The settlement
they'd passed two days ago had been utterly depopulated, a sign that everyone
had worshipped the pagan gods. If any had been left behind, they probably
run away rather than try to survive in a ghost town.
"Like I said, beautiful."
Edouard twitched his ears. In the past few weeks, they'd seen humans
doing some fairly awful things, but unlike his bride, Edouard came from a
world that was far worse, if less violent. He was concerned that she'd
become embittered with the entire race lately.
"We'll have to be careful, though, and check any settlements for food
that was left behind," Edouard warned. "Living rough means knowing what's
safe to eat and what isn't, and all of my experience in that regard comes
from the Amazon. We'll need to keep a close eye on the wildlife and avoid
eating anything that they avoid."
"Or just eat the wildlife," Isabel smirked.
"Remind me to tell you about poison arrow frogs some time," Edouard
shook his head. "But right now..."
"Yeah, I spotted them too," Isabel confirmed. "Three to the east, in
the tall grass. And I bet there's at least one more I don't see, getting
ready to close a trap."
"Near the rock to the northwest," Edouard avoided turning in that
direction. The geometry of his head gave him better peripheral vision than a
human, if a slightly smaller zone of binocular vision. It was one of the
reasons he favored melee, since he was a lousy marksman. Isabel's eyes were
set in a slightly more human face, by comparison. "They've been watching us
for a couple of minutes now. I think they're confused."
"We look like humans, at least as well as I expect a lion can tell. But
the wind has shifted enough times they have to have caught our scent, and we
don't smell like humans. Nor do we exactly smell like rival lions come to
intrude on their range," Edouard explained. He didn't bother elaborating the
point that all he knew about lions he learned by watching television. Feline
Moreaus were almost always made from domestic cats, and the Amazon wasn't
exactly home range to unmodified lions. "I'm not sure, but they might also
be able to smell that you're pregnant."
"They're moving," Isabel started to reach for the rifle slung over her
"Stop," Edouard placed a hand on her arm. "I don't think they're
attacking. The hidden reserve has broken cover, but they're not rushing us.
If they *are* attacking, it's the most pathetic lion attack since Dorothy got
back from Oz." Okay, so he probably watched too much television, Edouard
The quartet of lionesses joined up about ten meters away and then slowly
advanced in a neat line, as if marching in parade formation. When they were
three meters from the couple, they faced Isabel and bowed their heads.
"Look, red circles on their foreheads," Edouard observed.
"Oh. Oh!" Isabel put her hand to her mouth in shock. "I know that
symbol, from the memories Astarte unlocked. It marks these lions as servants
The largest of the lionesses raised her head and looked directly at
Isabel, then nodded in a very human gesture before returning to her
After a long, silent moment, the lionesses turned and slowly padded
away, moving with deliberate purpose.
"Should we follow them?" Edouard asked, hoping his wife had some sort of
goddess-granted intuition on the matter.
While either unable or unwilling to speak, the lions seemed to have
understood the question. The stopped, and the eldest turned slightly as if
to gesture that they follow.
"I guess so," Isabel shrugged. "We goddess-made need to stick together,
"I feel like such a plebian," Edouard chuckled as the two walked after
the lions. "I was only made by a mortal."
Still, after a decade of being an exile, Edouard couldn't shake the
feeling that he was finally coming home.
* * * *
[October 4, 2026 - The Serengeti, Africa]
And home it had been, now, for more than half his long life. The United
Empire seemed like no more than a dream sometimes, and even his decade in
America was faded in memory for all of its vivid events. The planet still
supported life, humans only rarely intruded on the plains of his family, and
that was enough. The lions of Sekhmet had interbred with normal lions, and
the current generation was only moderately more intelligent than the baseline
population, but they still treated Edouard's family as part of their extended
Tomaz had been born with lionesses as midwives, out on the plains, early
in 1999. When Mauricio and Luisa came along three years later, they were
born into a house, converted from a ranger station. The triplets Rodrigo,
Teresa and Ricardo made the house a bit too crowded and in 2005 the lions of
Sekhmet helped them find a sprawling ranch home that was in good enough shape
to move into and where the family lived even now. Tomaz was big enough by
then to start helping run the household, early maturity being a part of
Edouard's genome that bred true. The family expanded three more times by
2011, with Damio and Osorio in 2007, Janinha, Enez and Alberto in 2009, and
finally Vicente, Cristovo and Maria in late 2010. By that time, Isabel was
starting to feel and act old, even if it was hard to tell just by looking at
her. Perhaps whatever magic Astarte had used was running out, with no gods
around to replentish it. At only thirteen years old, Isabel simply never
woke up one morning, mere days after the youngest children had been weaned.
Edouard was surrounded by fourteen children of his own, and dozens of
Sekhmet's lions and their progeny, and yet he still felt the most alone he
had ever been. If not for his duty to the family, he might have sunk into a
deep depression and never come out. But as riven as he felt, he was not
alone, and he had to be strong for his family.
Now, even his youngest was older than Isabel had ever been. Maria
favored her mother's tawny appearance rather than her father's gray fur, and
her thirteenth birthday had brought tears to Edouard's eyes. Sorrow for his
lost love, but joy because none of their children had suffered their mother's
There were no grandchildren yet. Edouard wasn't sure of the genetics of
it, as there had been almost no third generation Moreaus in 1989, and all
breeding was controlled by the humans anyway. He was fairly certain that his
children had all at least experimented with sex, but so far no issue had come
of it. Maybe Isabel wasn't enough like him for their children to be fertile,
and he had sired a generation of mules? Or perhaps they simply needed some
outside blood. To know would require science a little more advanced than
what could be scrounged from the picked-over ruins of the 20th Century.
Something more like the mad science that had been practiced in Khadam,
assuming any of them were left alive. Hell, their big "patriotic hero"
Onslaught had been halfway to being a Moreau himself, and might not have
vanished with the other superhumans.
Edouard had ignored the world beyond the great Serengeti for decades,
focusing on his family.
Maybe the needs of his family demanded he look to the outside world
Back in the notes for #1, I pointed out that one way I could have gotten
the necessary backstory on Edouard out would have been a few paragraphs of
exposition. But not only would that have been a poor substitute for an
actual story, it also would have kept me from coming up with all sorts of
worldbuilding stuff that doesn't directly have to do with Edouard. Being
forced to flesh out the bare bones into four stories meant I was creating a
lot of stuff around Edouard, sometimes inventing things in the middle of a
scene (like the idea of the three armored heroines in ASH being known as the
Armor Angels, or making Isabel into a gun bunny). Summaries can plug a hole
in the backstory, but only stories fill in the cracks around the hold too.
The cover copy, while being a literal description of the first scene, is
also a reference to DC's Armageddon 2001 crossover event. :) But no worries
that I changed the ending because too many people guessed it....
The first scene of this issue was the last one written, and that's part
of why I broke with the pattern of bracketing all the flashbacks with scenes
set in 2026. Originally, I *had* opened with the 2026 scene. But things
were feeling way too expository and dry for a story set at the end of the
world, so I wrote the Tel Meggido scene. I decided I didn't want to abandon
the entire opening 2026 scene, though, so I left it in as the second scene
and tweaked it to remove the "and then this happened on July 6" summarizing
while leaving in the aftermath reminiscences.
As revealed in ASH #13, Jerusalem was destroyed by an atomic weapon to
help cover the evacuation of Israel to the island of Cyprus. With no outside
allies and a renewed fervor gripping its enemies, Israel was unable to hold
out against the invasion that took place in the months after the Godmarket
Crash. Most of Israel and large sections of Jordan are uninhabitable even a
generation later, this was no "clean" nuke like the one that destroyed
Wichita, nor were there superhumans around to help contain the damage.
When I was first working out the timeline for the births of Edouard's
children, I didn't even think about grandkids...it's not like I come from a
culture where sibling marriage is normal. But Edouard is a genetically
modified cat designed to be part of a self-sustaining breeding population of
servants, so inbreeding is probably a significantly lesser danger than it is
in humans (or in human-bred show cats of the more extremely weird varieties).
And Isabel is god-made, those tend to be able to create sustainable
populations from just a single mating pair, as per the "father of all (insert
mythological creature here)" figures in myth. So why wouldn't there be a
third or even fifth generation by 2026? Rather than go nuts with an extended
family tree, I realized the LACK of a later generation would give me an even
better reason to get Edouard involved with the outside world again, when he
shows up in a future issue of ASH.
What? You thought I'd put Ahmed in the neighborhood, use Vicente and
Cristovo into a scene in ASH, and NOT have Edouard meet one of the sons of
Onslaught? Tsk. Avian Moreaus aren't the only ones with dovetails.
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